In the Lexington mayor's race Nov. 4, first-term Mayor Jim Gray faces Anthany Beatty, a former Lexington police chief who is now an administrator at the University of Kentucky.
Gray has earned a second term.
His ability to both dream big about Lexington's future and wrangle with the nitty gritty of government has raised the city's profile, attracting national attention and businesses.
He has tackled some tough and politically risky issues, including reform of the police and fire pension system and the city's health care costs. Each was on a financially unsustainable course.
His success in dealing with them — without worker layoffs or increased taxes — provided the fiscal breathing room to invest in public safety, economic development and other areas, such as the free clinic for public employees that will lower costs to taxpayers.
Gray, who ran a family construction firm before becoming mayor, has also had success luring employers here, even as the community and the country were recovering from the recession.
Among the successes are Tiffany & Co., which opened a plant here in 2011 with 125 employees and announced last year plans to add 75 to its workforce; the international law firm of Bingham McCutcheon, which brought 250 jobs here last year, and the 21c Museum Hotel now under construction in an historic downtown building.
On a nuts-and-bolts level, Gray moved building inspection and code enforcement into the planning department and revived a dormant Vacant Property Commission, positioning the city to be more effective at preventing or dealing with blighted properties.
These are important measures to protect neighborhoods and assure everyone plays by the same rules. He also fulfilled a campaign promise to appoint a commissioner of planning to guarantee that land-use considerations are represented in his cabinet.
From a grander perspective, Gray has changed the conversation in Lexington, inviting nationally and internationally accomplished designers and planners to provide a fresh look at how to leverage physical and cultural assets. The city is now getting a lot of national buzz for its unique economy, culture and brand that are tied so closely to our rural areas.
Our biggest bone of contention with Gray is his lackluster support of the Purchase of Development Rights Program, which protects rural land from development. PDR is important to maintain the vitality of our agricultural economy, which a UK study last year found accounts for one in nine jobs in Fayette County and has a $2.4 billion annual impact.
Beatty has been a steadfast supporter of PDR and gets points over the mayor in that category. He also has a deep understanding of public safety but is much more vague when discussing the complexities of other city services.
He's criticized Gray's ambitions for Rupp Arena, the convention center and a surrounding arts district but hasn't articulated his own vision for the area.
While it's true that the plans for a renovated Rupp Arena ran aground in a public and messy fashion, they are good plans that provide a vision for uniting downtown with the Distillery District and turning what is now essentially parking lots and blank buildings into a lively, engaging urban center that will attract people and business.
Beatty's assertion that Gray has focused on downtown to the exclusion of suburban neighborhoods is simply not true.
Gray has made significant investments throughout the city, including hiring more police officers and fire fighters, building a new senior citizens center, adding new trails and park improvements, setting up offices to focus on affordable housing, homelessness and promoting local food. The city helped facilitate a new retail, dining and housing development on Nicholasville Road.
Beatty is a smart, engaging, thoughtful man with a long history of public service and a genuine commitment to Lexington, but he hasn't made the case that he'd be a better mayor.
The undendorsed candidate may submit a 250-word response by noon Wednesday,